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There's a gap between Youngstown and Frangos - and don't cover it with plywood

By Todd Franko (Contact)

Published June 12, 2008

There are plenty of strange marriages in the world.

Add to that list the union of the city and Lou Frangos.

How is it that Frangos locks up some of the choicest downtown properties for his development ideas, is the toast of the town several weeks ago when he launches the long-awaited Realty Towers residential project, has YSU interested in partnering with him on student housing — and yet he is derided and distrusted by so many.

I wondered that this week because the praise I expected to linger long after his May 14 Realty Towers launch lasted about as long as Gary Lockett did against Kelly Pavlik.

“Plywood” about sums it up.

That's what Frangos intended to use to protect the historic Stambaugh Building after pulling out most of its windows following a Memorial Day weekend mishap.

I think it's important to avoid pile-on with Frangos and the plywood. Heck, even Pavlik allowed Lockett to take a knee once (even, three times).

But there is an expanding gap that is troubling.

How does the city's top developer not tell the city he has a problem with one of the landmark buildings downtown? Even if it is an "emergency" — I have to think Frangos has digits for some city official he can call at 3 a.m.

"Um — windows are falling out of the Stambaugh ..."

How does no one from the city or the pack of downtown brickhuggers not see for an entire week the window removal going on in the heart of downtown and raise a stink?

How does the leader of our downtown revitalization think that window removal is needed, when a city department head sees the fix as a $3 tube of caulk?

My family helped plant flowers last weekend for the city’s StreetScape effort. The Stambaugh windows permeated the event. Physically — the fenced-off protection closed East Federal and limit access to parts of the plaza intended for work. Mentally — the gaping holes seemed to counter the mission of the day, which was to improve downtown.

At least three people — including a city councilman — asked me if The Vindicator was going to do something to fix “those windows.” It was humbling and rewarding, but also puzzling. We’re not the city. We don’t have zoning powers the last I checked.

I wrote a week or so ago about the need for the city to partner with other developers besides Frangos for downtown development. It was not a slam against Frangos. It was just a realization that putting too much hope on one guy is risky.

Amend that thought:

It's risky putting too much hope on a guy who would plywood windows 12 or so floors into the skyline at the same time leaders are trying to rid plywood as a street-level eyesore.


1tylersclark(182 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for blogging about this, Todd. Good points. The Vindicator, however, does have the power of the pen. It's striking that, a full week after the window incident, the Editorial page still hasn't remarked on this critical issue. As a CIC board member, I should think Mark Brown has a lot of opinions about how the Stambaugh building is being maintained. Or is there some reluctance to speak out because of the CIC's track record with its properties?

In any case, I'm still counting the days until the Vindicator editorializes about this most important crisis in the preservation of century-old Central Square. There's nothing more important you can be addressing.

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2lucy(135 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

I particularly like the point you made that Frangos, as a top downtown developer, would/should have known someone to call about the windows before he began removing them and replacing them with plywood. My best guess is that he was in avoid-getting-sued mode.

I agree with Tyler that the Stambaugh story needs more attention. The Vindicator, like any powerful media outlet, can use its influence to make sure that the matter is handled appropriately.

Thanks for your work on cityscape.

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3Cbarzak(110 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for this blog, Todd. It's very well-balanced, level-headed. But like Tyler and Lucy have said, the Vindicator has the power of the pen, it can direct people's attention to whatever you want it to, and since this is at the very center of where the Vindicator itself is located, I would think it would be most important to the Vindicator itself. By the way, I should think the Vindicator would be able to get a city grant to light up the neon in the Vindicator building's sign. Is there some loophole that denies city funds for Vindicator development? I would love to see that sign glowing again. Let's make a city. We can do it, if we want to, and if we're ready to demand it be so again.

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4toddfranko(101 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago


I am much obliged for the props to the blog and the need for The Vindicator's voice.

But Tyler, please stop counting days. A.) Our opinion will be Sunday. B.) There are more vital civic needs besides counting us, such as counting Frangos' other windows in other buildings.

I think part of being the responsible voice you are clamoring for us to be is to do it with the right voice and proper understanding of the entire issue. I think that's what sometimes makes Bloggermania look like Wrestlemania. Too many concerned and well-intended folks (myself included on some items) start typing away into cyberville with too much passion and not enough proof to justify what they say.

For example: Tyler's leap from our lack of an editorial to my boss' role in CIC. I might as well wonder if Tyler Clark had as role in O.J. Simpson being free, because "You know, the last name of that prosecutor was Clark, and one never knows the relations there."

I am comfy that the folks in our editorial page tower will wax wonderfully on Sunday – waxing that will be balanced by time, depth, careful measuring of words and ultimately passion for a downtown that gets better by the week.

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5cityguy(109 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

I agree with Franko here. I'm all for holding Frangos' feet to the fire but favor a measured thoughtful response and I get nervous when people start trying to dictate what a newspaper should "wax" about. I also don't think a newspaper should simply "direct people's attention" wherever it wants to.

I think all the downtown "brickhuggers" (great coinage there franko) are to be lauded for their enthusiasm and efforts but there are many voices and many points of view--the key to revitalization does not lie solely with "thirty something professionals" otherwise we run the risk of substituting one old narrowly focused guard with a new one.

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6tylersclark(182 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

What a relief, I was getting exhausted with all the counting...

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7Cbarzak(110 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

I understand where you're coming from, Todd. We have a city with a growing number of passionate people in it at this point, who have gotten used to indifference in the past at all levels--media, social structures, city government response--and I think because of the new directions things have gone in for the past few years, when something bad happens, it's easy to worry that we'll fall back into indifference again, and that may be where some of the bloggermania comes from to some extent. And the brick hugging. It's largely coming from not just thirty something professionals as mentioned by cityguy, but also from people who are simply worried that Youngstown will be used and abused as it has been for much of the past thirty years. I'm sure there'll be more incidents like this in the future, too. An upside is that hopefully it's a sign of a growing sense of the people who live here as a people who are coming back into a sense and recognition of themselves as a community with a voice, rather than being silenced and disenfranchised. In the end, it's a good thing that people care, though I'm sure it's also frustrating on some level!

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8cityguy(109 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Hey don't get me wrong I'm a big ol' brickhugger myself! I was merely pointing out that all of the communication I have seen on downtown revitalization talks exclusively about young professionals--there are a whole lot of empty nesters who also wouldn't mind moving into the downtown area and they might be more interested in things other than festivals.

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9toddfranko(101 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

The good thing in all of this is that there is debate and passion for downtown.

That we disagree how to go about reprimanding Frangos is better than not caring at all. We do agree that a reprimand is necessary.

What I would suggest though, is as this energy and passion grows for downtown, keep any future disagreements focused on the source. I'm still a bit in disbelief that a substandard move by a downtown developer turned into a target on The Vindy's back and a clockwatch of sorts.

Sure we could have written an editorial sooner. I don't think we were late with it, either. We had one schedule. A blogger had another and wrote and wrote about it.

It wasn't like we as a company ignored the Stambaugh Massacre. We had three swipes at news stories over the course of 5 days. There's more coverage on Saturday.

Yet we were looked at with derision, like we were partners with Frangos' actions. Should every institutional powerhouse be taken to task for one guy's mistake? The city? Police? Downtown business folks? Heck -- let's blame the corporate bosses at BW3 because their staff knew the bad that Frangos was doing.

We screw up enough on our own. Nail us for it when it happens.

But let's not beat up anybody for one man's poor decision.

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10JanKo(10 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

While not a perfect way of measuring the public's desire, the online petition someone has put up to create a Landmark Structure Ordinance for Youngstown has gathered a wide range of support by various people throughout the community:


well over 400 signatures and counting, with many noticable names.

Maybe these individuals with their own distinct voices - regardless of the groupings labeled to them such as "media" or "bloggers" or "brickhuggers" or "politicians" - can come together to work on an Ordinance which may prevent future mishaps from occuring.

Perhaps the trust which can develop from process of working together will prepare the community better for the next big obstacle - whatever it may be.

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11JanKo(10 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

I wanted to add, as an about-to-be "thirty something professional", I really really really dislike that term.

There is no line in the sand. Caring about downtown development is not a clique by which there is an age requirement. Young professionals are not the saviors of this earth, even though it is trendy to market to them.

Moving forward entails sharing thoughts across all ages and all races and all classes.

Youngstown is a big tent. Get inside of it regardless of your age.

There's plenty of room.

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12tylersclark(182 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

If you want to call me reactionary, I can take it. But when this landmark building is exposed to the elements so suddenly, the city needs all the support and ammunition it can get to deal with a developer who's known primarily for dragging his feet. This paper has a prominent voice to use, and in my opinion it was overdue in using it and I thought that needed to be said. We can disagree, but that doesn't mean I'm putting you in league with Frangos as a bad actor in this drama.

We've seen too many historic buildings in the business district disappear already and too many yet standing are on the demolition list, so as soon as I see another one in danger of making the endangered list, I'm going to sound the alarm. If you want to call me a brickhugger or anything else, I'll accept that label, and I'll keep pleading with you to speak out against building owners gone wild.

I'm pleased you're doing an editorial on the Stambaugh building on Sunday, but I still believe it should be your second. It's too important.

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